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The World Dancing on The Heads of Snakes

The World Dancing on The Heads of Snakes

Monday, 20 June, 2022 - 10:45
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

The world has deceived us. We assumed that we had learned the lessons of the two world wars, of smaller yet brutal collapses, of mass graves, and of waves of emigrants, who drifted away from their homeland.

We thought we had drawn the lesson from wrecked states, armies and cities, and of coffins returning home, accompanied by the woes of widows and the tears of orphans…

We believed that we had realized the huge budgets squandered on the dreams of daredevils…

This century has deceived us. It looked promising, with its successive technological revolutions, its tireless communications development, and its major conferences that call for attention to climate warming…

We thought that the era of massive crimes had passed… that it was impossible to cover them up, with our smartphones spying, filming, broadcasting and exposing crimes whenever they occurred.

We were confident that the time for transparency had come… that accountability was a basic principle... that institutions will prevent the intransigence of the powerful and will stop them from unleashing great tragedies.

We had the impression that the institutions and public opinion would discipline the corrupt empires, and that the era of failed governments was subjected to severe blows.

We believed we were on the way to a less brutal world… That living in the “global village” would be less painful with the influx of goods, ideas and investments. We thought that generals of technology would replace generals of armies, and that giant companies would advance on the arsenals.

We thought that books on Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pol Pot and the like had burdened the bookshelves in our homes. We felt it was necessary to give some space to books about the creators who set out with their inventions and discoveries to change the fate of the inhabitants of the planet.

We considered that we should give more room to politicians who are preoccupied with improving the health and education sectors, combating unemployment, desertification and drought, and reducing harmful emissions.

It seemed to us that the world would move from the era of rulers who intoxicated their people with illusions of victories to the era of rulers who involved their citizens in the workshop of achievements and improving people’s lives.

Here we bid farewell to our illusions. On February 24, Vladimir Putin launched a “smart” missile that killed the world we had been living in since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disappearance of the Soviet Union. The Russian army crossed out the international borders and penetrated the Ukrainian map. The scene is horrific by all accounts. The country that launched the invasion is a major state protected by a nuclear arsenal, and a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Soon the Council seemed to be out of operation. The positions of the secretary-general of the international organization seemed closer to the pleas of a drowning world, than to a willingness to impose an even timid presence of the international law. The world was reminded that Ukraine was naked and does not enjoy the umbrella of the NATO alliance. The message was awful. No one will come to your protection if a strong assailant attacks you and you are not part of a military alliance. No one will risk sending his army to save you from the aggression of a nuclear state.

Europe seemed weak and frightened by the smell of smoke and the sights of ruined cities. The most it can do is supply weapons to the Ukrainians in a war, the consequences of which are already known.

What’s dangerous about Putin’s war is the fact that it is not the result of a Russian-Ukrainian dispute. It is part of a broader battle. Ukraine is just an arena that Putin considered appropriate for launching a massive military and political uprising against the balance of power that has prevailed in the world for three decades. This is why he was keen to announce that the “era of domination is over.”

Thus, it can be said that we are facing a major war. A Russian war targeting the American leadership of the world and with it the Western model that succeeded in abolishing the Soviet Union. Only the European continent is suitable for launching major coups by virtue of its location, history and influence. Putin spoke of a new world whose rules would be established by “strong” states that enjoy undiminished sovereignty.

It is no exaggeration to say that the world is mired in a dilemma from which it is difficult to get out. Forcing Russia out of Ukraine under military pressure does not seem possible. Such an option would entail a long and costly war, militarily, economically, and politically, which the “Western Front” does not seem capable of bearing.

The missile war mixed with the conflict for oil, gas and wheat threatens to suffocate many countries. The rise of prices, inflation and stagnation, and fear of what is to come portends a wave of instability in the world. If forcing Russia to withdraw is unlikely, offering Ukraine as a gift to the Kremlin master is also difficult, because he wants much more than Ukraine.

The Ukrainian episode is clearly the spark that opened the gates of hell. There is no exaggeration in this statement. The world is again betting on arsenals and armies, not on the United Nations and international law. Small countries feel they need their army and alliances to convince their powerful neighbor not to attack them under many pretexts. It is enough to fear for products that the world thought the belligerents would not consider involving in their wars.

In the past three decades, the American administration has lacked humility and realism in the world. It made many mistakes in dealing with Russia and others. It acted arrogantly, imposing its method and dictating its rules. But American mistakes never justify the exorbitant coup that Putin launched with iron, fire, gas and wheat.

It’s a few months that changed the world. We are almost used to seeing millions of Ukrainians fleeing their country and Ukrainian cities under fire. We can almost accept that Taiwan is the next station to complete the coup. And here we see China rising with a third aircraft carrier, after it was dreaming of the Belt and Road Initiative. Governments near and far are preparing for the worst. Billions of dollars are being spent on arsenals, which could have been spent on health, education and refugee assistance. These are the scenes of a sinking world. If the Ukrainian map can be torn into pieces, why can’t other maps be dismantled? And what if the regional wolves escaped to redraw the features of their neighbors?

It is clear that the world will face difficult years. It would not be surprising for Guterres to borrow the famous expression from late Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in order to say that managing the world is like dancing on the heads of snakes. Snakes bite the dancers, no matter how skilled they were at appeasing and taming them.

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